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On Being a Pantser (Revisited)

I recently started a super-reader/fan Facebook Group for Seed Savers. Thought it might be fun for people to easily share news articles about the themes in my books, or to do a group read with the author along. Stuff like that.

A few people chimed in that they wanted to do the group read, and so I began again to read Seed Savers-Treasure. Obviously, I’ve read my own book many, many times over the years. Treasure was released in 2018 by Flying Books House, but I first self-published an earlier version of it under the name “S. Smith” in 2012. I think the first draft was written in 2010. So it’s been with me a long time.

I wrote in my last blog post how the first book eventually turned into a five-book series and how the need to make calendars became apparent.

As I finished my reread of Treasure this week, what struck me was this: Written as a pantser, some of the questions the characters ask throughout the story were questions I was asking myself as I wrote because I had not preplanned every little thing in the storyline! For example, how will the children see the signs of the Seed Savers if they travel only in the dark? What does a national border actually look like? The questions I asked myself became questions the characters asked.

So what exactly is a pantser? So glad you asked. I wrote a guest post on the subject many years ago. I searched out the guest post and finding it no longer available, I hunted down the original and am reposting it today:

On Being a Pantser

I’ll get right to the point: I’m a pantser.  And I’m glad we pantsers are finally out of the closet, or er, dresser drawer, whichever the case may be. For a while there all I ever heard successful novelists talk about was “the plot,” “the Story,” “the big plan.” I’d sit in my seat while Lauded Author went on and on about how she carefully outlined the five novels in her series before even beginning book one. Huh? It made me feel like a fraud.

But now we know: not everyone makes the big plan. We don’t all outline every scene, chapter, or book. Some of us just put our characters down on paper and watch what happens. It’s fun. And it’s kind of scary sometimes. Like, for example, when you’re not sure how things are going to end. And there will have to be an ending, eventually. Unless, like, you’re the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.

If you never heard the term pantser before, let me assure you, it does mean what you’re thinking it means. It’s right there in the urban dictionary, “fly by the seat of your pants” while writing a novel.

I remember how in my first novel (not Seed Savers), one of the main characters sort of slipped into the book, just like that. The character I thought was going to be a main character was summarily disposed of; definitely not according to even the vaguest plan I might have had in my head. Another shocking case of pantsing in that novel was a scene where one character had a phone conversation with her mother. The mother had always been so kind and understanding and then, wham! The mother just turns on her over the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I think that’s when I realized how much our characters will surprise us. How much fun it is to be open to changes from what we thought was going to happen.

In the first Seed Savers book, Treasure, there is an old man character named Gruff who comes upon the children when they are so lost and alone on the street. As he approached I wasn’t certain if he were friend or foe. Turns out he was friend with a capital F; he was a Seed Saver! I swear I didn’t know it beforehand. Gruff became my favorite character in the book.

In Heirloom, I was just writing along, and whoosh! What? A character jumps on board that acts surprisingly like my late grandfather. Not long after, my grandmother wanders on stage. It was really great to spend time with them again :).

What are the disadvantages of being a pantser? Well, foreshadowing for one. Hard to foreshadow when you are a part of the audience. But sometimes it works in reverse. For example, if a character is acting all squirmy or dodging the question, I think, “Hmm, what’s up with that?” The foreshadowing leads to the ultimate action. Other times I just say to myself, “What can I go back in and add as foreshadowing?” There’s no shame in going back and tidying up a book. That’s what it’s about, the polishing piece.

Another disadvantage of being a Pantser I already mentioned. How is it all going to end???? I don’t know. And that’s scary. I have to trust that the characters will continue to lead me.

In the meantime, don’t bother asking about what comes next in Seed Savers. Because       




If you’re a writer, are you a pantser mainly, or a plotter mainly? Obviously, there are times when we are both. 🙂

Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!


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